It is no surprise that shopping online has become increasingly popular, especially over the past two years. Nowadays, online shopping is preferred by more and more people who are looking to take advantage of the convenience offered by being able to order nearly anything from their smartphones.

But this shift in consumer habits has not only been caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic or the increasing busyness of life. Social media has been impacting the way we make our purchases too. So here, we take a more detailed look at how social media is significantly changing the way we shop.

1. Creating imagined intimacy

While it has been normal for products to be advertised on television (in adverts or even inserted within the programmes themselves in subtle ways), the growth of social media has allowed advertising to enter our lives on a much grander scale. Social media began as a way to connect with family and friends, but now we use it not only to keep up with those we know, but celebrities, and even companies.

The important thing to understand is that these companies also use social media’s friendly familiarity to seem more approachable and intimate. Twitter accounts for supermarkets are interacting with consumers in ways never seen before and clothing companies are increasingly featuring their followers’ pictures on their Instagram grids.

This is a much more subtle form of advertising than an advertisement on television or in a magazine, and doesn’t always feel like it is pushing a product or service. The imagined intimacy created here is a brand new form of marketing, which inspires more brand loyalty – driving up revenue as we purchase from companies that we find funny, ethical or friendly.

2. Word of mouth on a grand scale

Social media isn’t only useful for subtle advertising that slots into your feeds alongside friends and family – it also makes it easier to share your thoughts. While this can be negative in some cases (many consumers use social media accounts to complain) hashtags are a great way for potential shoppers to find reviews and positive word-of-mouth recommendations.

Where we once might have purchased items that we heard about through people we knew in real life, or those we found organically, social media creates an environment where we can find new items much more easily. On the other hand, it’s worth noting that this increased access to genuine reviews and recommendations also allows those on social media to make more conscientious and considered choices.

3. The rise of influencer culture

Even if you aren’t looking for something new to buy, or seeking out reviews and recommendations, companies can sneak product-focused posts into our feeds without us even noticing. The increasing rise of influencer culture allows those with a large or growing social media presence, celebrities or those with online notoriety, to be paid to promote certain products in partnership with a company.

While these promotional posts must be flagged as such, whether on Instagram, YouTube, or another site, we are still predisposed to trust those that we already follow and like in some way. Social media allows users to feel closer to influencers, so they may rely on their advice and recommendations in the same way they would a friend – encouraging purchases they may not otherwise make.

4. An algorithmic approach

While the change from a chronological to an algorithmic approach has not always been popular, it is much more common across the board on social media platforms now. This means that your feed isn’t just showing you those you follow, but accounts you might find interesting based on these.

So, if you follow an account for a company selling furniture, you’re more likely to see more furniture accounts popping up in your feed. This can increase spending as consumers discover new brands and businesses. Often, these accounts will be offering some kind of deal or sale in a way that would previously have been difficult to offer to customers not already signed up to an email list, which can entice consumers to spend more while feeling as though savings are being made.

Only time will tell how social media will change and grow as time goes on, but one thing is for sure – as long as there are social media platforms, they will continue to influence how and where we spend our money.